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The 2022 Asia-Pacific PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 125 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across the region.
Consultancy of the Year winners are announced and honoured at the 2022 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards, which return in person to Singapore on 13 October. Analysis of all Finalists and Winners can be accessed via the navigation menu or below:
Weber Shandwick’s cohesive regional strategy for the past decade often means that the whole often adds up to more than the sum of its parts, and thanks to considerable geographic breadth and specialist depth, with healthcare emerging as one of the firm’s most important growth drivers. Significantly, the firm has devoted considerable energy to an “intersectional” strategy which recognises that today’s PR challenges are complex and cross-functional, and nowhere, perhaps, is that more important than for its healthcare practice — which regularly combines expertise from the firm’s formidable technology, corporate and consumer operations. In addition to pharma, there is significant depth in therapeutic, regulatory/compliance, brand, and medical education, while Weber Shandwick’s ESG, employee engagement, creative production, digital and public affairs expertise are also proving increasingly critical to its healthcare growth.
Hong Kong serves as Weber Shandwick’s biggest healthcare practice, with that expertise being parlayed via a relatively unique cross-market hub with Singapore. Korea and Japan are also major healthcare markets for the firm, while China has also emerged as an important geography for the sector. Weber Shandwick also collaborates with IPG’s broader Dxtra Health offering.
Healthcare was Weber Shandwick’s strongest-performing sector in 2021, growing at a double-digit rate across the region thanks to specific expansion in Japan (+53%), Korea (+65%) and China. The client base includes some of the biggest names in the sector, including Novartis, BMS, Sanofi, MSD, Abbott, Roche, GSK, Illumina, Takeda, Boehringer Ingelheim, Gilead, Siemens Healthineers, and Fresenius — while it also added Moderna via IPG Dxtra’s global win. Notably, the firm’s focus on convergence helped it land new business in conjunction with technology (Abbott’s medtech business), corporate (MSD executive profiling, Evident’s brand ID, Novartis positioning, Zuellig regional change), and consumer (HPV and breast cancer awareness for MSD and Novartis, respectively). Indeed, the firm’s growing capabilities in ESG and change management also helped it land new assignments from several of its healthcare clients.
Key figures include Robert Broad and Wincy Chan, who each serve as EVPs across the Hong Kong and Singapore hub under Albert Shu, while Kaoru Nakagawa and Wei Wei head healthcare in Japan and China, respectively. As befits its collegial reputation, Weber Shandwick’s focus on employee culture includes a new DEI action group, and specific initiatives to dismantle oppression in India and Singapore. The firm’s ‘Juice’ global initiative remains instrumental in helping Weber Shandwick reimagine the future of work, including enhanced flexible working and leave policies.
The firm’s intersectional strategy has resulted in compelling work for a number of its clients, including Novartis’ See What Lies Beneath breast cancer campaign, and storytelling strategy to develop Abbott’s profile as a medtech company. There were also notable efforts for MSD (maternal care and HPV vaccine awareness), Evident (brand ID), Novartis (advanced gene and cell therapy), and Zuellig (regional change).
— Arun Sudhaman
The world’s largest PR firm was also one of the first US-based networks to launch in Asia, via a Malaysian office in 1984. Since then, Edelman has expanded rapidly, and now employs 1,200 staff across 11 Asia-Pacific markets. But while healthcare has long been a mainstay of Edelman’s business in the US and Europe, its capabilities in Asia have taken longer to develop — although the practice appears to have been making up for lost time in recent years.
There are 1,200 people across major operations in Greater China (mainland offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, as well as operations in Hong Kong and Taipei), Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam), Australia (offices in Sydney and Melbourne), Japan, Korea, and India (where the firm has seven offices) — enough to give Edelman one of the largest Asia-Pacific footprints among the multinational agencies. And the healthcare practice is now present in every market as consumers take more interest in their own wellbeing and pharma companies recognize the potential of the market.
After a challenging year in 2020, when regional revenues declined by about 8%, the firm was able to win back all of that and more over the past 12 months, with growth of 11% to around $107 million across the Asia-Pacific region. Edelman’s healthcare business led the way, with growth of 27% in Asia-Pacific last year, making it the fastest growing sector in the region, and it now contributes about 25% of the region’s revenues. Increasing investment from clients in consumer wellness, medical technology and pharmaceutical and biotech has been fueling the growth in healthcare, which has now grown for four consecutive years while expanding its links with Edelman’s EMEA and American practices. Existing clients such as GlaxoSmithkline and Viatris have been joined by new additions such as Bayer.
While there has been some turnover at the top, with the departure this summer of regional CEO Stephen Kehoe, the healthcare practice has been stable under the leadership of Will Collie, who also serves as vice chair, client growth, but has a wealth of experience in the sector, having served in-house at Sanofi-Aventis in Australia before joining Edelman in Chicago and then returning to Asia-Pacific in his current role in 2020.
Highlights of the firm’s healthcare work range from the “Celebrating What It Means to Care” campaign for pain-relief brand Panadol in Australia, which received more than 400 nominations from across the country of ordinary Australians who had demonstrated commitment to caring for their communities to the “Listen to Pain” campaign, focused on neuropathic pain for client Viatris, using innovative technology to create ambient music that allowed people to “hear” what the pain feels like to sufferers. When it comes to thought leadership, meanwhile, it’s difficult to look beyond the firm’s Trust Barometer, almost certainly the most valuable piece of intellectual property in the public relations industry, which has expanded to include an in-depth look at trust in various healthcare influencers—critical in the pandemic era, with misinformation proliferating and traditional sources of information being called into question.
— Arun Sudhaman
Healthcare public relations is often seen as a recent growth driver among many of the major multinational agencies operating in the region, but there is nothing new about FleishmanHillard’s emphasis on the sector, which has been a key component of its regional business since it expanded into Asia more than 25 years ago. The firm’s capabilities have expanded from pharmaceutical marketing to include market access, regulatory and legislative issues, clinical trial work, content development, HCP and technical medical communications across the full lifecycle of products from drugs to devices. Increasingly, the firm’s healthcare expertise is supplemented by rising demand from the sector’s clients for corporate, consumer/brand, DEI and employee engagement services.
The firm has strong healthcare teams in Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Mumbai, New Delhi, Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney and Tokyo, and also collaborates with other Omnicom-owned healthcare-focused agencies to deliver a broader array of services.
Fleishman’s healthcare business was once again one of the best performers among its regional practice groups in 2021, up 15% for a client roster that includes Abbott, Pfizer, Novartis, J&J, Olympus, Philips and RB. There was notable new business from Takeda, Zuellig Pharma, J&J (handling DEI work for the region), and Friesland Campina.
Fleishman’s employee experience focus, includes a comprehensive new e-learning platform and numerous programs to improve leadership, skills and wellness, while there has also been a notable improvement in FleishmanHillard’s efforts to drive stronger DE&I policy and actions. Manila GM Patti Malay oversees the firm’s regional DEI efforts, supported by champions in each market. Notably, Fleishman has gender balanced leadership across its top four levels; half of its offices are led by women, and Korea’s Yvonne Park has played a key role driving gender diversity legislation for Korea’s publicly-listed companies.
Fleishman’s thought leadership offering has been elevated by the rollout of the firm’s TGI global insights and analytics practice in Asia, while there has also been increased investment in creative and planning, and a new media and platforms practice. That is supported by considerable research-based activity, including the FH China Annual Report and Authenticity Gap Global Report, and specific products focusing on such areas as women’s health and Gen Z. Key healthcare campaigns included DEI work for J&J, World Milk Day for Friesland Campina and a public affairs focused depression campaign for Janssen in Hong Kong.
— Arun Sudhaman
WPP’s GCI Health may be an established name elsewhere, but in Asia-Pacific, it’s only just shedding its start-up status to establish itself as a force to be reckoned with. The agency opened its doors in Singapore at the start of 2019 to provide a regional hub for WPP’s only global specialist health PR agency and has since grown rapidly across the region under the impressive leadership of Rikki Jones. The firm’s timing has been impeccable, benefiting from the long-overdue expansion in healthcare PR that has only accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic, and earning Healthcare Consultancy of the Year honors last year.
After launching in Singapore, GCI Health added Hong Kong in 2020 and Japan and India in 2021 — with plans to open in China delayed slightly by the pandemic but still very much a priority. And, of course, GCI has a strong global network, ranking among the market leaders in healthcare in the US and the UK.
Globally, GCI grew by about 24% last year, giving it revenues of around $125 million and ranking it just outside of the world’s top 25 PR agencies, according to our research. In Asia, where the firm is obviously starting from a smaller base, the growth was even more impressive, with revenues up by about 57%, with Singapore up by better than 60%. GCI is now partnered with eight of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the region, with AstraZeneca, Baxter, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, GSK, Gilead, Jansen, Merck and Novartis among the big names on the firm’s client list.
Regional CEO Rikki Jones, who previously headed the firm’s EMEA operations through their start-up phase, has built out an Asia-Pacific leadership team that includes managing director Yvonne Yeung (Hong Kong), Sophie Asker (Singapore), Chitose Yamada (Japan), and Hemali Bhutani (India), supported by leaders in medical communication: Glen Halliwell and Cathy Chow, who also plays a lead strategy role. This team has been very focused on internal and cultural issues, with the launch last year of a new “PeoplePact” that emphasizes both personal development and meaningful work, resulting in an 84% retention rate last year — well above the regional standard — and placement on several Best Agency to Work For lists.
A major key to GCI’s success in the region is its ability to move rapidly beyond traditional public relations, offering clients a blend of scientific communications, medical education, medical affairs strategy and publications expertise in an integrated way. That approach has helped the firm make a difference on some major challenges: working with AstraZeneca, for example, to roll out its Covid vaccine against a backdrop of some skepticism and secure its adoption by several governments; promoting serology tests in India to demonstrate vaccine efficacy; educating Type 2 Diabetes patients about cardiovascular complications for forxiga, and launching the Hologic Women’s Health Index on International Women’s Day.
— Paul Holmes
In the nine years since its launch, SPAG has already established itself as an industry game changer in the Asia-Pacific region — a hybrid firm with strong healthcare and public affairs capabilities. And that expertise was further recognised when the firm was acquired by leading US independent Finn Partners in mid-2022, giving the firm the access to the kind of global scale and expertise that will likely help its regional growth aspirations. Finn, of course, is one of North America’s best healthcare agencies — and it will bring formidable expertise to SPAG’s existing capabilities in pharma, medtech, public health, wellness and corporate.
SPAG has grown beyond its three Indian offices to now operate a growing Singapore presence, along with offices in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand.
After several years of rapid growth, SPAG experienced something of a slowdown in 2021, thanks in large part to the Covid impact on key trade association clients in India. Even so, the firm’s public health expertise will be critically important as Asia emerges from Covid, for a client base that includes Herbalife, Novartis and Bayer, along with new business for Avantor, Om Biosciences, Curative, Abbvie and RB. The breadth of SPAG’s client work reflects its decision to spin off pharma and medtech/healthtech as separate practice areas — particularly in terms of startup business. In India, where it employs 65 people, there was also new business from Varian, EverCare, Marengo and GSK, while Singapore’s growth has been fuelled by increasing wellness and corporate work.
Founders Aman and Shivani Gupta continue to oversee SPAG, ensuring a highly entrepreneurial flavour to the firm’s culture. Ritika Jauhari returned as president, overseeing strategy and new business, while Priyanka Bajpai oversees Southeast Asia.
There has also been a notable uplift in the firm’s thought leadership output, via the Asia-Pacific Healthcare Communications Outlook Report in partnership with KPMG, along with an SPAG Dialogue podcast that focuses on public health. Notable work included pan-Indian work across PR, public affairs and digital for Novo Nordisk, business and medical education for three new Roche drugs, and SABRE-nominated employer branding for Marico.
— Arun Sudhaman
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